For many Iranians the cinematic movie '300' may come as a shocking
revelation. But to those of us who came up through America's
schoolsystem, the 'Battle of Thermopylae,' which is what the movie '300'
is based on, is as familiar as George Washington's fabled "cherry tree"
The Battle of
Thermopylae was of course written by the classical Greek author,
Herodotus, who lived in the Persian city of Halicarnassus. His book,
'The Histories' became part of Western folklore only recently. It wasn't
until about 1850 that America embraced Herodotus as the leading
authority on Persian history.
Before 1850, however,
the West had a very favorable impression of the Persian Empire. That's
because the West's main source for Persian history was the Bible and the
'Cyropaedia,' written by another Greek author named Xenophon.
But the Cyropaedia
glorified the monarchy of Cyrus The Great, and in the wake of two bloody
revolutions fought by America and France to liberate themselves from
their own monarchies, a major campaign began, around the mid 19th
century, to promote democracy throughout the rest of Europe, and
Herodotus was the perfect propaganda tool.
Herodotus was a
democratic groupie and was quickly ushered in as the "Father Of
History." Around 1850, his 'Battle Of Thermopylae' came to symbolize the
West's struggle for democracy against the powerful forces of Persia's
The story is easy to buy
into: 300 brave Spartans saved Western democracy from 2.7 million evil
Persians. But aside from the fanciful numbers which need decimal-point
adjustments, this whimsical tale has far graver consequences than a mere
bias account of history.
The 'Battle Of
Thermopylae' has been the single most powerful wedge, which has divided
East and West for over 2 millennia. In a time when East and West should
be reconciling their differences, along comes the movie '300' to drive
that wedge even deeper.
What is most disturbing
about this movie is not that it lacks historical accuracy. It is not
that Xerxes, the Grandson of Cyrus The Great and loving husband of
Esther, is shown as an oversized drag queen. Its not even the outdated
racist cliché of casting the Persians as Africans and the Spartans as
white, blue-eyed Chippendale dancers, when in reality
the roles may well have been reversed.
What is so distressing
about this movie is the realization of the tremendous power Hollywood
wields in determining a people's identity. It is the same nightmare
Native Americans endured during the whole 'cowboy-movie' genre.
But for those who are
quick to dismiss '300' as a fleeting fantasy flick aimed at the
insignificant, 17 to 24 year-old male video-gamer, think again. First
there was Alexander, now '300,' next could well be the 'Battle Of
Marathon,' another one of Herodotus's glowing accounts of ancient
Herodotus is accepted
blindly by virtually all Western demographics. Even the New York Times
is not immune. Here is how it described the Persians in its April 20,
2004 issue on the Battle Of Marathon:
defeat of a ruthless state (Persia) that had enslaved much of the
known world from the Balkans to the Himalayas."
ancient Greeks defeated the Asian invaders (Persia) and saved
Europe in what scholars call one of the first great victories of freedom
- William J. Broad,
What stretches the
limits of hypocrisy is that there isn't a single shred of archeological
evidence that the Persians ever owned slaves. Yet we know that slavery
was an integral cornerstone of Greek society. Aristotle's manifesto even
sanctions it. Persia, which was once a haven for runaway slaves from
Egypt, Greece, and later Rome, is today branded
as a slave-hungry empire by cultures which were built on slavery!
What makes Herodotus's
propaganda so difficult to refute is that its peppered with facts. But
in reality, its a desperate diatribe. Perhaps his biggest ploy is his
attempt to equate democracy with freedom. These two words are used
virtually interchangeably throughout his book. And the West has
swallowed it hook-line-and-sinker.
But America's founding
fathers new better. They were not swayed by Herodotus. They implemented
many safeguards to protect freedom from the pitfalls that mired Athenian
democracy. Even Winston Churchill said:
"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others
which have been tried."
Democracy may well be
the best form of government. But what makes America great is not so much
democracy as it is its Bill Of Rights. And this is exactly what made
Persia Great. Democracy can often lead to tyranny by the majority as was
the case in democratic Athens, where women, slaves and foreigners did
not have the right to vote.
In monarchic Persia,
however, women enjoyed a level of gender equality unmatched even to this
day, and slavery was not practiced. The fact is, Persia's monarchy was
more free than Athens' democracy, all because of Persia's Bill Of
No one exemplifies
Persia's freedom better than Herodotus himself. He describes Athens as
the bastion of freedom, yet he chose to live in Persia. Xenophon, on the
other hand, who actually lived in Athens, reminisces enviably about the
monarchy of Cyrus The Great?
Herodotus claims Persia
had enslaved most of the known world, yet we know Herodotus was not a
slave. He traveled freely throughout the empire, openly criticizing it.
Why did Herodotus not
live in Greece? Because Persia - the empire he is so quick to demonize -
afforded him the very freedom to publish his scathing report of it.
People want to live where their god-given rights are protected,
regardless of whether its democratic or monarchic.
These god-given rights
were first drafted into law by the founder of the Persian empire, Cyrus
The Great. In fact, ancient Persia may well have served as the blue
print for America's Bill Of Rights. Both Thomas Jefferson and James
Madison, the architects of America's Constitution, were great admirers
and owned several copies of Xenophon's Cyropaedia.
Today, no other country
resembles ancient Persia as closely as does the United States. If any
country should sympathize with, rather than celebrate, Persia's quagmire
in Greece it is the United States. Few events in history mirror
America's war on terror as closely as Persia's war on Greece.
The Greeks had been
carrying out terrorist attacks on Persian holdings for years. They had
attacked Persian cities, set fire to Persian temples, disrupted key
trade routes, and pirated merchant ships crossing the Bosphorus. They
incited rebellions inside Persian provinces, but
perhaps most abhorrent to the Persians was the ease by which the Greeks
broke their treaties and betrayed Persia's trust.
Rather than resort to
violence, however, Persia tried to keep the Greeks in check by
financially supporting Greek politicians who were "pro-Persian," much
the same way America fights its proxy wars. But what finally triggered
Persia's wrath was an act rarely mentioned in the West, though well
documented, even by Herodotus (7:11).
In 498 BCE, Athens
carried out a terrorist attack on Sardis, a major Persian city, which
made 9/11 seem like child's play. Aristagoras, an Athenian, set fire to
the "outlying parts" of Sardis trapping most of its population "in a
ring of fire." (Herodotus 5:101)
More innocent civilians
died at the hands of Aristagoras than Osama bin Laden could ever hope to
kill. And just as most of the world supported America's retaliation
against Al Qaeda, so did it rally in support of Persia's attack on
The Spartans were not
even targets of Persia's attack, until they violated a universal
protocol by killing a Persian messenger who Herodotus claims was asking
for Sparta's submission but in reality was probably sent by Persia's
king, Xerxes to convey the same message George Bush sent to the entire
world after 9/11: "you're either with us, or
The Spartans were Greek
Jihadists who lived only to die. They were by all accounts ruthless
savages who murdered Greek slaves known as "Helots" just for sport,
cultivated a culture of thievery and rape, and practiced infanticide, as
the movie '300' rightly points out in its opening scenes. Sparta was not
even democratic. It was an oligarchy at best. Despite knowing all this,
the West continues to hail the Spartans as the saviors of Western
Yes, the Spartans died
fighting a foreign invader. But so do countless Iraqi insurgents, yet
few of us would consider them good guys. Those who do are then not much
different from Westerners who cheer for the Spartans. Rooting for the
Spartans merely because they were underdogs, is like rooting for Osama
bin Laden today.
History is no longer
written by the victors, it is written by filmmakers. When will the
children of Persia rise up and fight back using the same weapon
Hollywood has used for years to denigrate the legacy of their ancestors?
When will we abandon our defensive posture and begin to write our own
Perhaps the movie '300'
was a necessary wake up call. But Persia bashing will never disappear on
its own. It is the main villain in the Western saga. The only way it
will change is through the power of film.
Alex Jovy's epic movie
about Cyrus The Great could have done wonders for the Iranian image.
Instead it sits idle for lack of money. My documentary film about Cyrus
The Great (www.spentaproductions.com)
has languished for the mere want of $400,000.
Iranians are the most
affluent minority group in America. If we set our minds to it, we can
achieve anything. This Nowruz, I hope all Iranians will resolve to
finally unite in an effort to redeem the reputation of our ancestors.